Duluth Superior Symphony Orchestra

September 26th 2017 @ 7pm

DECC Symphony Hall, Duluth, MN


Shostakovich: Symphony No.12, The Year 1917


The year 1917 was a crucial one in Russian history. In February tumults broke out in Petrograd (St. Petersburg), leading to a shift in political power, which ultimately resulted in a second revolution in October of the same year. The leader of the uprising was Vladimir Lenin and his Bolshevik movement ultimately led to the creation of the USSR.

Many years later Dmitri Shostakovich set out to commemorate the events of this year. Very programmatic in its approach, the symphony describes the events of the revolution in a vivid musical language: The first movement paints a picture of revolutionary Petrograd, followed by a depiction of Lenin’s headquarters outside of Petrograd. The third movement then takes place on board the famous warship Aurora, which was stationed in Petrograd. The revolutionary spirit spilled over to the crew and soon mutiny broke out. On October 25th 1917 a blank shot was fired from the ship’s gun, signaling the assault on the Winter Palace in Petrograd, which was the beginning of the October revolution. The Finale is titled The Dawn of Humanity and describes life in Russia under Lenin’s leadership.

Throughout his life, Shostakovich found himself in a difficult position. The reality was, that he was not at all enthusiastic about the Bolshevik Revolution. And writing music to celebrate Lenin and his revolution was certainly not something that came naturally to him. But the reality was also that, if his music was not in line with Party doctrines, it would not just jeopardize his career – it would put his life in serious danger. He had made this experience with his opera Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District, which almost got him deported to the Gulags. After that experience Shostakovich became more careful about his writing. He adapted a style that was true to the party line on the surface, but that would be critical in a subliminal way. His Symphony No.5 is a prime example of these subliminal messages, and we find the same concept in Symphony No.12, The Year 1917. It’s an incredible work that, unjustly so, has become one of the less regarded and performed symphonies by this great Russian composer.

Here is a fantastic performance of the entire work. Unfortunately the sound is not great, but the performance is too good not to share!


Miguel del Aguila: The Giant Guitar

Staying true to the revolutionary spirit of the concert, we pair Shostakovich’s symphony with two more revolutionary pieces: Miguel del Aguila’s The Giant Guitar starts out as an homage to Aguila’s home country of Uruguay and South America in general. But soon the mood darkens and the music turns violent. This announces the arrival of the military regimes in South America and the ensuing revolutions. In light of recent developments in countries like Venezuela, this work, unfortunately, still describes the reality in many countries around the world.

Here is a short video that Miguel made for my performance of The Giant Guitar in Massachusetts last season:


If this stirs your curiosity, here is a short excerpt of the work. You can also visit Miguel’s website that features many sound clips of his great work. Click Here!


Tchaikovsky: Violin Concerto

The final piece of our Revolutions concert is Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto. While not inspired by a revolution, the piece nonetheless created an upheaval when first presented to Leopold Auer, the great violinist of his time, whom Tchaikovsky had dedicate the work to. Upon receiving the score Auer declared the work “un-violinistic” and “unplayable” and refused to premier it. But several years later, when the work had gained significant popularity, Auer picked it up after all and made some retouches. Ironically his retouches didn’t make the work easier, but more difficult to play!

Here is a wonderful performance of the work with my friend James Ehnes: